The law industry has put sustainability high on the agenda. Here’s how three of the region’s top firms have responded to the growing climate crisis.
As a highly influential industry, it’s no surprise that law firms across the globe are putting sustainability at the forefront of their ESG priorities, cutting down their own carbon footprints while advising their clients on how to do the same. From eco-friendly office refurbs to employee-wide volunteering, here’s how three Leeds-based law firms are working hard to make a difference.
Making ESG accountable for all
Global legal firm DWF has an impressive corporate social responsibility programme with a huge focus on the environment. Volunteering is a key part of their agenda, with all team members empowered to take two days per calendar year to pursue charitable causes. It’s something they even get their clients involved in, as Associate Solicitor Abigail Jennings told us, “It’s different to the traditional idea of taking the client out for a sit down dinner or some drinks – you can actually do something positive whilst you’re networking.”
When it comes to voluntary work, the firm has been especially focused on environmental causes, working closely with the Canal & River Trust. Team members have taken part in the charity’s plastic challenge, which sees them working with their colleagues to remove plastic waste from riverbanks and the surrounding towpaths. “It’s great as a firm to be supporting these sorts of environmental causes,” Abigail explained. “Especially as we’re based in central Leeds – we’re right on the river and the canal’s near our area as well.”
Aside from volunteering, the firm has been working to reduce its usage of single use plastic, handing out reusable bottles to all staff. They’re also supporting Leeds City Council with their tree planting pledge, with the council pledging to plant a million trees. Through the firm’s very own charity – the DWF Foundation – they’re able to award sizeable grants to small charities whose activities match their own ESG objectives, raising over a million pounds to date. These contributions have helped their chosen charities to make an incredible impact within local communities.
When it comes to keeping team members aligned with the firm’s overarching environmental policy, accountability is key. “Sustainability is something that’s written into everybody’s daily activity,” DWF Partner Jonathan Branton told us. “Everyone has an ESG objective and every year we have something called objective manager, where we write down each individual’s objective for next year. Those are measured at the end of the year, with each individual making a note of their own personal contribution to the agenda.”
A trailblazing commitment to net zero
Another firm with a laser focus on sustainability is Womble Bond Dickinson, whose forward-thinking environmental practices have been recognised with Gold certification by EcoVadis. As a founding member of the Legal Sustainability Alliance, they work closely with other law firms to take positive action on climate change. They also hold Planet Mark certification and meet ISO 14001 international standards for environmental management, recycling almost 90% of office waste and reducing emissions by 37.5% since the 2019/20 financial year.
The global firm takes its ecological responsibility very seriously, with 25 Environmental Representatives working across their offices. “Sustainability is at the heart of our responsible business programme,” explained Simon Pilling, Womble Bond Dickinson Partner and head of the firm’s Leeds office. “We were actually one of the first law firms in 2020 to commit to achieving net zero by 2030. And we launched a really ambitious carbon reduction plan then. So I would say that we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental management.”
On a local scale, the recent refurbishment of the firm’s Leeds office has completely transformed the working space. The entire refurb was completed using significant BREEAM sustainability methods, resulting in an environment designed to appeal to people returning to city working following the pandemic. On top of installing eco-friendly lighting and air conditioning, they recycled furniture where possible and procured items and materials either from the same manufacturer, or from local sources in order to minimise carbon impact.
“The refurb has been a chance to create a space that appeals to people coming back into the office in the city,” Simon told us. “It’s been great to do it with with the environment in mind.” The commitment to eco-friendly working spaces is evident nationwide – the firm uses renewable energy in five of its eight UK offices, with nearly 80% of the electricity they use across the UK certified renewable. What’s more, by working collaboratively with clients and suppliers and aligning their strategies where possible, they help to make a wider impact on the planet.
Giving back to the community
Having been a founding member of the Legal Sustainability Alliance since 2008, Irwin Mitchell is a Yorkshire law firm working hard to reduce the impact it has on the environment. From opening sustainable new office spaces to encouraging home working where possible, they’re following multiple routes to reduce their carbon footprint business-wide. In addition to setting an ambitious target to use 100% renewable energy across all offices by 2025, they’ve also implemented a roadmap to help them hit carbon net zero by 2040.
A commitment to responsible business runs throughout the organisation. By working with the Irwin Mitchell Charities Foundation it supports a range of good causes every year, and in 2023 the firm launched its first national charity partnerships with the aim of building longer-term relationships. A popular Give As You Earn scheme sees widespread uptake, and it’s not just money that the colleagues donate either – the firm provides a Community Volunteering Allowance, encouraging people to use their time and skills to make an impact in their local communities.
The Volunteer Policy helps team members give back to the local community, while bringing people together. “We have a Community Investment Forum who run activities all the time,” explained Irwin Mitchell Partner Rachelle Mahapatra. “If you want to do something for charity, you have two days off per year to go and do something with the organisation, and people tend to do that together. So for example we might support a conservation project to improve the local environment, or support a local school with mentoring, but we’ll do it together, which is really rewarding.”
Irwin Mitchell’s commitment to charitable work and giving back to the community is something that appeals to colleagues, helping the firm attract and retain people. Colleagues at all levels relish the chance to get involved with pro bono work and other forms of volunteering, with the firm always looking for ways to maximise people’s time, skills and resources. “The culture at Irwin Mitchell is very people-orientated,” explained Rachelle. “We’re very aligned to our colleagues and clients but also the charity sector and the community sector.”
The future is green
It’s refreshing to see such a joined up approach from law firms as the sector makes its transition to net zero working. With the support of the Legal Sustainability Alliance, legal firms across the nation have plenty of resources to help them shift to green. What’s more, with the likes of Leeds-based Walker Morris teaming up with global giant Deloitte to form the Yorkshire Climate Action Coalition and inviting businesses of all shapes and sizes to do the same, sustainability is an issue that’s front and centre of everybody’s minds.